When Daniel J. Obara became vice president for student services at Westmoreland County Community College in 1996, the college was located only in Westmoreland County, there were no online courses and there were about 5,500 students.
Today, the community college has expanded into Greene, Indiana and Fayette counties, online offerings exceed the 200 on-site classes, enrollment is more than 6,600 and Mr. Obara, who holds a doctorate, is college president.
More growth is on the way. The college is in the design phase of an Advanced Technology Center at RIDC-Westmoreland (the former Sony plant) for workforce development programs and a new home for the Laurel Education Center in downtown Latrobe.
To fund the projects, an Investing in Our Community campaign is entering its public phase. More than $21 million of the $28.5 million target amount already has been raised.
"I'm very optimistic about reaching our goals because the projects resonate in terms of the needs of the communities we serve," Mr. Obara said.
Besides the two projects, the funds will be used to expand and renovate the nursing and biology laboratories at the main Youngwood campus and increase funding for scholarships for students enrolled at WCCC sites in the other counties.
Of the $21 million raised so far, the major support comes from the state, Westmoreland County and the state Department of Education.
The Hillman Foundation awarded a $300,000 grant for the Advanced Technology Center and the Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation awarded a $500,000 grant for the Latrobe Center project.
"We plan to appeal to the general public, the business community and other organizations and foundations. Typically, the final portion is the toughest," said Gene P. Ciafre, co-chairman of the campaign.
Mr. Ciafre is a board member of the Educational Foundation and a member of the community college's board of trustees. For the Advanced Technology Center, WCCC will lease and renovate about 72,000 square feet of space at RIDC-Westmoreland to house workforce development programs now in the Business and Industry Center.
Over the past six years, enrollment in these programs has increased 63 percent and now exceeds 400 students in the 26,000-square-foot facility.
The new center will provide state-of-the-art training in areas such as mechatronics, additive manufacturing, energy, machining and fabrication, metrology and nanotechnology for WCCC students, employers who relocate to the multi-tenant RIDC, and workers from other local businesses and industries.
"It is very timely for offering the kind of training in demand today. Marcellus shale is a part of it, as is the types of training needed for machinists, welders and a whole host of curriculum that will prepare students for the mostly good-paying, manufacturing jobs today," Mr. Ciafre said.
Construction will begin this summer on the Latrobe Center, along Depot and Jefferson streets, that will replace the aging Laurel Center.
The two-story, 30,000-square-foot building will house general classrooms, computer and science labs, student study areas, offices and multipurpose rooms for college and Latrobe community activities.
Both new centers are expected to open for the fall 2014 semester.
Over the next year, planning will begin to expand the nursing program's high fidelity patient simulation lab, renovate the Founders Hall biology lab with updated equipment and increase the endowment for student scholarships to $1 million.
"I think it's fantastic," Mr. Obara said of the projects. "I think the Advanced Technology Center will be a tremendous regional asset for workforce development, and I think the Latrobe Center is going to be a wonderful addition to the civic revitalization of downtown Latrobe while at the same time greatly increasing our capacity for educational services in the area."
Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: email@example.com. First Published April 25, 2013 9:00 AM